As the positive body image movement gains more prominence in the media, awareness of body shaming behaviour has grown.
Body shaming occurs when you criticise yourself or others (either to their face or behind their back) because of some aspect of physical appearance.
Even if you don’t consider yourself to be guilty of body shaming, you might unknowingly be body shaming yourself or others.
Six ways you might unknowingly be guilty of body shaming:
#1 Labeling women’s bodies as ‘real’
The term ‘real women’ has become popular to describe women with curves. Although on the surface, describing women’s bodies as ‘real’ sounds body positive, it’s actually a form of body shaming. By implication, describing women with curvy bodies as ‘real’ means that women without curves aren’t ‘real’. Saying that one body type is more ‘real’ than another is not embracing all body types. Body diversity isn’t about building one body type up at the expense of another. Just because a woman is thin, for example, it doesn’t make her any less real that a woman who is fat or curvy. It’s more accurate to say that the airbrushed images prevalent across the media are not real women.
#2 Assuming overweight or very thin people have a ‘body image’ problem
Just because a person looks over or under weight, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are unhappy with their body. Body image is the way that you think and feel about your body, and it’s not dependent on what your physical body is like.
Anyone can have negative thoughts about their body, so someone who is overweight doesn’t automatically have poor body image. Likewise, it’s false to assume that a very thin woman has an eating disorder.
These assumptions are stereotypical judgments that have become commonplace in our society. When you pass judgement on how someone feels about their body based on their weight or shape, that’s a form of body shaming.
#3 Passing off comments about another person’s weight as ‘health concern’
Another person’s weight or shape is nobody’s business but theirs. What they eat, how much or little and if they exercise is entirely up to them (apart from children in your care). We can’t judge another person’s health from their looks alone. When you make comments about someone’s weight because of concern for their health, it’s actually body shaming in disguise.
What your concern really says is that you don’t think that person’s weight is acceptable, and that they need to do something about it. Of course, it’s natural to be concerned about people you love. But even if someone might benefit from certain lifestyle changes, you aren’t going to encourage them to make those changes by shaming them into it.
How another person chooses to treat their body is their business. It’s not anyone else’s place to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do. The most kind and loving thing you can do for those you care about is to accept them as they are. As Dr David R Hamilton says, in his book “I Heart Me – The Science of Self-Love”, acceptance has the ability to create positive, healthy change.
#4 Praising weight loss
How often have you said to someone that has lost weight that they look great? I have in the past, thinking I was giving a genuine compliment. Yet this is a subtle form of body shaming. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with compliments. However, when you praise weight loss, there is the underlying suggestion that the person’s body was unacceptable in the first place.
Think of it this way, how often do we compliment people when they gain weight? There is an inherent assumption that thin = good and carrying excess weight = bad.
Unfortunately, even if your intention is to make a genuine compliment, weight loss praise is another way of body shaming someone.
Isn’t it about time we started complimenting people on things other than looks? Things that are actually more important like their skills, personality, and achievements?
#5 Putting your life on hold because of your body
When you make doing anything in life conditional on your body or looks, you are actually telling yourself that you aren’t worthy of those things. Have you ever said things like, “I can’t start dating again until I weigh 10 pounds less” or “I can’t wear a bikini on holiday until I can get into a size 10”?
Yet, it’s very likely most of the things you are putting off can be done today, exactly as you are.
Although you might believe that putting conditions on what you most desire in life will be motivational, it’s not. Putting any aspect of your life on hold until your weight, size or looks reach a particular goal is body shaming, which will only worsen your self-worth and body image.
#6 Restricting what you can wear
Have you ever stopped yourself wearing something that you liked because you didn’t think you had the ‘right’ kind of body to wear it?
There is a lot of guidance available about which body shapes can wear what styles of clothing – women’s bodies are categorised as geometric shapes, types of fruit, and cutlery to mention a few! Having worked as a personal stylist in the past, I know that the intention behind these categories is meant to be positive – to help women find clothes that make them look and feel confident.
However, the problem with such classifications is that, when taken literally, they can create body shame. I’ve heard women bemoan the fact they can’t wear skinny jeans because of their pear shaped figure or criticise other women who do.
Classifications are just guidelines, which you can take or leave. The most important source of reference when deciding what you want to wear is YOU. Not whether you are an apple, triangle, spoon or whatever! You have to decide what you like, what you enjoy wearing, and what makes you feel good. When you stop yourself wearing something you really like because you don’t think your figure fits in with a set of ‘rules’, you are shaming your own body.
Are you guilty of body shaming yourself or others? If so, which behaviours are the culprits? Make a conscious effort to remove them from your life. Doing so will not only help boost your body image, but the body image of those around you.